PERSONAL ESSAY: People Power 1986: the view from Netherlands

BANSALAN, Davao del Sur (MindaNews / 24 Feb) — February 25, 1986, I was pregnant with my second child when early in the morning I heard our doorbell ring. Mevrouw Kemp (Mrs. Kemp) was in front the door bringing a big bunch of flowers. Then she hugged me and said “Gefeliciteerd met jullie.”

“Bevrijdingsdag. Eindelijk Filippinos zijn vrij” (Congratulations on your Independence Day. Finally, the Filipinos are free). I did not get what she said right away. Then she added: “Marcos is weg!” (Marcos is gone). Then it dawned on me: the EDSA revolution which I followed closely on Dutch TV. Tears rolled down my cheeks. The old lady knew that I was so passionate about my country. She invited me several times to talk about the Philippines during Lenten season. I shared how it was to live under Martial Law and how worried I was for my friends, families and the country as a whole. I joined a group of Filipinas who performed cultural dances all over the country (the Netherlands) and then we shared about the condition of our people and nation (Philippines).

I invited Mevrouw Kemp for a coffee and she recalled what I shared in her group. Our Gouda parish (where I lived for at least 30 years) supported the struggle of the Filipino people by contributing funds to CEBEMO specially during the Lenten season.

After she left, I switched on the TV and there I saw many images that really made me proud as a Filipino. I was crying and laughing at the same time. I was even dancing with glee. “Finally, the struggle is over,” I said to myself.

More neighbors came to visit me. Some called me by phone. I realized how informed the Dutch people were and how concerned they were about our country. It is not surprising that the Netherlands is one of the countries which continued their support to the Filipino people.

I was so proud how Filipino people toppled the dictatorship, an act that has inspired I would say the fall of Berlin Wall. It started with political changes in Eastern bloc in 1989 and finally paved the way for German reunification in October 1990.

It was a great time to be a Filipino as if I have regained my confidence and could face the whole world and say “Look I am a Filipino. We toppled the dictatorship through People’s Power”.

Look, we were oppressed and now we are free!

I recalled the Martial Law days. I remember friends who did not make it to the “Liberation Day,” friends who offered their young, precious lives to set us free. I remember friends who were captured and tortured. Some were released and thank God lived to tell their stories. I remember hundreds, nay thousands of church workers who despite the dangers, continued to preach the gospel of liberation through creative ways, through GKK (Gagmayng Kristohanong Katilingban -Small Christian Communities”. Friends who defied Martial Law because they longed for freedom. Freedom to speak. Freedom to Asemble. Freedom from oppression.

Despite all criticisms of our country, I am still proud of it. The freedom we breathe today definitely is different under Martial Law. There was fear. The fact that we can express our thoughts and freely criticize anyone even the President is already a sign that we have democracy.

Some people (those who have not participated in the struggle) and some young people do not realize how it is to be gagged, to be afraid if you join a gathering, to be curtailed of your freedom. To be disciplined while guns are aimed at you.

Thirty years is not too long. Europe (the Netherlands especially) still celebrate their liberation day solemnly participated by young and old ALL OVER THE COUNTRY. The Netherlands celebrates each year on May the 5th to mark the end of the occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II. Church bells will ring and there is two-minute still. Remembrance is done nationally and even at the local level. It is a celebration for the whole nation.

I miss this in the Philippines. Sadly, some people like to forget Martial Law.


We should not forget Martial Law.

NEVER AGAIN! [Leila Rispens-Noel was coordinator of the Alay Kapwa Human Development Desk of the Mindanao Sulu Secretariat for Social Change (MISSA). She later worked as Program Manager of Migration and Development at Oxfam Netherlands from 2001 to 2009. She is the founder of WIMLER Philippines and Director and Co-Founder of WIMLER Foundation Hongkong Ltd. Her advocacy is related to Migration, Remittances and Development]